Do You Really Need That MBA or Advice-Giving Certification To Move Ahead?

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As we recently reported, only one in four firms offer employees full or partial reimbursement for continuing education, which is down significantly from six years ago when nearly one out of two companies covered educational costs.

So, how do you know if it’s important to pursue more schooling?

Stephen Laser, Ph.D., is a Chicago-based psychologist who is often hired by financial services companies to interview and test job candidates before they’re hired. In an interview with eFinancialCareers, Laser says that before you start spending all that money for an advanced degree or certification program, consider the following:

1) Going for a certification can be very important, especially if you want to go into private practice. “Education is expensive and has gotten more so,” he says, but it’s tough if not impossible to go out on your own these days without having the right letters in after your name. “If you’re interested in leaving Chase,” let’s say, and becoming someone who privately advises people on their investments, you will probably need that Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CPWA), Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) or (CPWA) certification in place first.

2) As for pursuing an MBA, it makes sense to talk things over with your manager or the human resources department to learn whether or not you need one in order to move up the ladder. “If you’re a lending officer and want to go into institutional bond trading, someone might say to you, “No one here does that without an MBA,” says Laser. In that case, maybe the investment makes sense.

3) Another route to consider, assuming you have somehow been able to keep a position in finance over a long period of time without an undergraduate degree, is the Executive MBA or “EMBA” degree. Laser recalls working with an individual several years ago who had an administrative role for a large mutual fund company, and when the company began considering moving this employee up from director to vice president, higher-ups were shocked to learn she only had a high school diploma from a vocational school. Her employer paid for her to attend the University of Chicago to receive a two-year EMBA degree, and she ultimately got the promotion without having to earn a bachelor’s degree. This may require a significant work history and the recommendation of your supervisors. Several top schools offer these programs including Harvard, University of Chicago and MIT.

4) For those who are not as facile with social networking as they’d like to be, a relatively inexpensive educational option that may improve their skills is to hook up with a community college or a high school offering continuing education courses on social media. Here, you might learn some very practical job-seeking skills and need to shell out no more than $100 in the process, Laser observes.

5) Always investigate your company’s reimbursement policies, since they’re not always advertised as well as they should be, says Ryan Sutton, a Robert Half senior vice president based in Boston. Most major organizations do offer something—whether it be a mentoring program, internal training program or tuition reimbursement program, he says, and partial reimbursement for education is in fact a little more common these days than it was a few years ago, says Robert Half’s latest survey.